Last Sunday morning, I got up at about 8:00 AM and was pretty energized by getting a decent start on the day. I headed downstairs and fired up the espresso machine. I whipped up a couple of nice cafe latte’s for my wife and I and settled down to read the news on my tablet. When I powered it up and saw the time … 9:20AM … I sank a bit as I realized we lost an hour overnight as we experienced the “spring forward” part of Daylight Savings.
As luck would have it, one of the first articles I came across was about how the Monday morning following “spring forward” is statistically the most likely morning on which one will have a car accident. Apparently the loss of one hour (combined with the return of morning darkness) throws us off enough that we are less competent at things like driving a car.
Time is a precious commodity to most of us. I hear conversations constantly from those around me that in essence say “there are not enough hours in the day”! Think of our time at work (or getting there)There are a host of other lost hours that seem to gather much more attention from us:
- An urgent meeting
- A sick child
- Something not working at home
- A traffic jam
- A colleague stops by for a chat
- A flurry of phone calls
- Getting hung up in email
- Cleaning up our office
- “Faffing about” (as my Aussie friends say)
All of these items are things we would generally view negatively and might even go so far as to have them cause us stress or other unwanted feelings. We didn’t have enough time before “that happened” and now we are even more behind the 8-ball! Perhaps we start to beat ourselves up because we haven’t accomplished enough of the to-do list or we don’t think we are good at managing our time. Perhaps we get annoyed with those around us for interruptions, unplanned additions to our workload, lack of execution, etc.
These lost hours feel like they pile up on us, as the to-do list isn’t getting any shorter and our inner critic demands that we prove to the world that we are good enough to handle it. Stay late! Check those items off the list! Put your nose to the grindstone!
Especially for those who have families, the pressures of time do not stop when we leave the office, as our busy lives extend right through the evenings until we fall into bed exhausted or flop down on the couch to watch some mindless television as that is all we can manage with the energy we have left.
Have we ever stopped and considered that we aren’t in control of time? It is relentless. It ticks away at the same rate no matter how much we implore. What we are in control of is our relationship with it. When we start to feel the pressures of time piling up on us, perhaps the trick is in noticing that we are feeling the stress and taking control. We face the facts. We are not in control of what happens to us. We are only in control of how we respond.
Probably the greatest thing we can do to manage our responses to what happens to us is to maintain a state of presence as we move through our day. We cannot change what happened in the past, and we can’t know what the future will hold. We can only consciously choose to take the action that will make the greatest contribution to our work and our life now. Think of it as a dynamic to-do list … we get to re-write it as many times as we want throughout the day simply because we truly know what we will do to make an impact!
Here are five ideas on how to bring yourself back to a state of being present throughout your day at work.
Connect With Others
Humans are highly evolved social beings. It is completely natural thing for us to be in relationship with others. Leave your desk, along with your stress and any thoughts of your work and go for a wander around the office. Almost certainly you will find others that are available to connect with. Choose carefully – avoid the gossiper, the complainer, the negative Nellie. Pick someone you know that you can have an authentic one-to-one discussion that connects with the other person. What is happening with their family? How are they feeling? What is new and exciting? As you do, notice the calm descend and any feelings of connection you feel. As you end the conversation be conscious of keeping these feelings with you as you return to work.
Go For a Walk
Exercise is a natural way of being present, although that increases with the intensity of the exercise. When walking, first try to leave any thoughts of what you were working on or what you will work on next behind. Then try to notice everything that is happening now. The sun on your face, the sounds of the city, the people you are passing, the feeling of the air as you move through it. Notice any sense of peace that comes from you enjoying your surroundings, the energy you feel from the people you encounter and bring that sense of presence with you back to your desk.
A smile is a little bit of magic. It is proven to release endorphins into our system – a hormone that induces a feeling of well-being into us. It doesn’t have to be a big ear-to-ear grin. It just needs to be a conscious effort to move the corner of our mouth up into a half grin. It is especially powerful to combine it with interactions with others, as a smile is contagious and will often evoke a positive return for you. As you do it, notice any change to your physical and emotional state. Did you notice a warmth, a lightness, a joy or some other positive shift? Hold onto that sensation as you step back into your productive space and choose your next task.
You don’t even have to stand up to do this most basic of mindfulness exercises. Just stop working, put your feet flat on the floor and focus on your breathing. Feel it. The coolness as the air moves through your nose and down into your lungs. Your chest rising and falling. The warmth of the air as it leaves you and passes over your upper lip. As thoughts of other things enter your mind, gently push them away and return your focus to your breathing. Continue this until you feel a sense of calm descend over you. Hold on to this sense as you return to productivity.
Acknowledge your Accomplishments
Reserve this one for the end of the day. Before you pack up and head home, take a minute to give yourself credit for what you accomplished during the day. I suggest not looking at your to-do list. If yours is like most, the things you didn’t accomplish will jump out at you and throw you off. Instead write down the tasks you accomplished, the people you helped, the ideas you came up with, the meetings you facilitated and even the smiles that you gave that were warmly received. The importance of this action is twofold. First it sends you home in a positive state so that you can join with your family authentically. Second it has you practicing self-care, which as you develop the habit, will make it easier for you to remain present!
Give these a try! The key to taking advantage of being present is that you don’t have to return to the to-do list. You can tap into your knowledge and instincts to tackle the thing that will make the biggest contribution … to your team, your organization, and ultimately your own satisfaction!